Faust, the epitome of grand French opera and Gonoud’s masterpiece returns to Covent Garden in this fifth revival of David McVicar’s production. The opera tells the story of Faust, who we meet as an old man about to kill himself, and the devil Méphistophélès who changes his mind by getting him to sell his soul to him in return for youth and the love of Marguerite. Suffice to say, it doesn’t go well for Faust.

Erwin Schrott as Méphistophélès © Royal Opera House 2019

This revival has experienced plenty of drama leading up to opening night – Diana Damrau who was meant to play Marguerite slipped a disc and had to withdraw from all performances. Irina Lungu, who was already singing some of the performances, was brought in to sing all of them. She unfortunately also became ill so at the very last minute, Mandy Fredrich was brought in to save the day, arriving in the UK at 4.45pm on the day of the performance for a 7pm opening! Added to that, Erwin Schrott, who plays Méphistophélès had a sore throat, but we were told by Oliver Mears the director of the Royal Opera that he would continue. I am incredibly glad that Schrott continued as he was for me, the standout performance of the night; not just a fantastic singer but a sublime actor, and his enjoyment, that fun, translated on to the stage wonderfully.

Mandy Fredrich, the saviour of the night, was wonderful in her surprise Royal Opera House debut, and the way she did it at such short notice is nothing short of phenomenal. Stéphane Degout, who played Marguerite’s brother Valentin carried off another brilliant performance, full of depth and heart, doing amazing things with such a small part. The one poor performance for me was Michael Fabiano as Faust. Fabiano doesn’t – in my opinion – have a strong enough voice for the role. He also seemed the least confident, looking over to the conductor more than the rest.

Stéphane Degout as Valentin © Royal Opera House 2019

The production however was definitely strong enough: David McVicar’s production is absolutely amazing, full of gilt, glamour and detail, radiating effort and value. No one would ever describe it as ‘cheap’ – there’s even a replica Palais Garnier at the back of one of the scenes! The costumes again are very well designed and detailed, as are the wigs and make-up. This is one production where no expense has been spared, and it really shows.

Dan Ettinger conducts the orchestra well, although I’d have liked to have seen a bit more power during the chorus sections which felt a little flat. The chorus, who are usually unbeatable seemed a bit all over the place in the first half, but rallied back to brilliance in the second half.

Faust is a very typical French grand opera and this production is about as good as it gets. The performances by Schrott, Fredrich and Degout were brilliant, layered, and exciting to watch.

Faust is running from 11th April to 6th May, and will be shown live in selected cinemas on 30th April. Visit The Royal Opera House for more information.

Words by Stuart Martin 

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